When I see half naked women on billboards, magazine covers, and commercials, I can’t gawk out of lust like most men. I can only feel every imperfection stinging on my body and think of how ugly and fat I am compared to this woman. I know that she is completely constructed by men using photo editing software, but I still want her beauty. Most other men, even the teenage boys I see everyday, don’t seem to know this or they just live in the hope and fantasy that maybe that woman really exists. Either way most men and young boys expect that girls like me, who are seventeen years old or even younger, can be that synthetic woman that is open for their taking.
One hot summer day, I put on a pair of jean shorts and a tank top with some sneakers to go to a friends house. I was fourteen years old and did not yet know that this simple and comfortable outfit could make me a target. I walked up the busiest street in my neighborhood with my school bag on my back eager for the day ahead of me. A couple blocks away from the house, a man who was probably in his mid to late twenties, slowly rolled next to me keeping pace with me. He yelled, “Hey girl! You need a ride?” I tried my hardest to ignore him and walk as fast as I could, but he chased me knowing I didn’t want to speak to him. He spoke again, “Come on, girl. You’re fine! Can I at least get your number? How old are you, baby?” I could finally say the words that had been swelling in my throat. “I’m fourteen,” I shouted back. He stared at me for a split second with awe glazing his eyes and then drove away as fast as he could, leaving tire marks on the road ahead. The tears began to well in my eyes and my cheeks began to burn. I had never known how much focus there always was from others on my body until this very moment. I wanted to hide away from the eyes of others as soon as I could, so I ran home to the safe haven of my bedroom. This memory sticks with me, because it is the first time I ever experienced street harassment. This experience made me realize how girls in our society are perceived as objects made for any man’s sexual demands. I learned that I was and continue to be one of the very many young girls that experience this harassment regularly and it disgusts me. Through research I found that around 50% of harassed women and men experienced street harassment by age 17 and more than half (57%) of all women had experienced verbal harassment, and 41% of all women had experienced physically aggressive forms, including sexual touching (23%), following (20%), flashing (14%), and being forced to do something sexual (9%). I also realized that we live in hypersexual society and these depictions of half naked women began to stand out to me even more. Knowing that I had eyes on me at all times made me very self conscious, and I felt like intolerable of the standard for women that surrounded me in advertisements. By growing up in this hypersexual society, I have become uncomfortable in my own skin and critical of every imperfection on my body and sadly I am not the only one.
Our society is exposed to more sexual images than ever before. Researchers from the University of Buffalo stated that, “In the 1960s, it was found that 11 percent of men and 44 percent of women on the covers of Rolling Stone were sexualized. In the 2000s, 17 percent of men were sexualized (an increase of 55 percent from the 1960s), and 83 percent of women were sexualized (an increase of 89 percent). Among those images that were sexualized, 2 percent of men and 61 percent of women were hypersexualized. ‘In the 2000s,’ Hatton says, ‘there were 10 times more hypersexualized images of women than men, and 11 times more non-sexualized images of men than of women.’ We encounter more sexual images in our daily lives than ever before and that in turn makes our focus on sex higher than ever before as well. A 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that between 1998 and 2005, the number of sex scenes on TV nearly doubled. During prime time, 77 percent of shows included sexual content, averaging nearly six sex-related scenes per hour. Among the top 20 shows for teenagers, 70 percent included sexual content and 45 percent included sexual behavior. This content easily exposes children and teenagers, as well as adults, to sexual content and indicates how normal sex has become in our society.Growing up in a hypersexual society that exploits women causes many negative impacts the identity of young girls and boys. With this impossible standard of a perfect body hanging over their heads, young girls are becoming more self conscious and have very low confidence levels which can lead to even more serious conditions such as depression, anorexia, bulimia, self harm, and other disorders that arise from their bodily image. Boys in this type of society can also grow to have unrealistic body standards and sexual expectations for women. Both of these responses from a hypersexual environment create an eternal cycle that maintain each other. For this cycle to be able to diminish, our society’s identity must change to become less focused on sex and focus more on the self, but with the condition of our current culture this transformation is unattainable.